Rashad Evans vs. Tito Ortiz at UFC 73 via UFC.com.
July 7, 2007. UFC 73. Bruce Buffer steps to the middle of the Octagon and reads the scores. 28-28, 28-28, 28-28. Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans have battled to a Unanimous Draw. This heated encounter and exciting fight ends with a whimper, not a bang. Immediately the talk is rematch, with both men calling for another shot in the post-fight interviews. But it was not to be.
Four years later, and the rematch is finally upon us, as Tito Ortiz vs. Rashad Evans II is set to headline UFC 133. But it's been a very long and winding road from UFC 73 to today. Here, let's take a look at how both men came to this position.
At the time of the first fight, Tito Ortiz was still very much a relevant factor in the UFC Light Heavyweight division. The former champion had made his Ultimate Fighter era return the year before, scoring wins against Forrest Griffin and Ken Shamrock (twice) before challenging the dominant Chuck Liddell for the belt. Liddell won, handing Tito his first loss since 2004 (against... Chuck Liddell), but Ortiz looked good for much of the fight. Yes, it was clear he had lost a step since his big Light Heavyweight title run, and yes, there were already those who felt he was a shell of his former self, but he was most definitely still a name that commanded attention in the division.
For Rashad Evans, UFC 73 represented a serious step up. The TUF 2 champion was undefeated, but had not yet faced truly top level opposition, with his biggest win coming against Stephan Bonnar. He was, however, coming in off a highlight reel KO of Sean Salmon - the most spectacular moment of his young career - and was beginning to shake off some of the negative image he picked up during TUF and his early string of decision victories. The idea here was that Evans would either make his name by taking out a legend, or be sent back down the ranks.
The fight itself remains a strong point of contention. Tito Ortiz took 2 rounds to 1, but was deducted a point for grabbing the fence, resulting in the draw. Tito fans say that he would have won if not for the point deduction, while the Rashad side sees it as Tito cheating throughout the bout, giving him rounds that he would not have won without grabbing the fence. After the draw, the two men moved in very different directions.
Evans, the younger, not as established fighter, moved up to a headlining spot in his next fight, main eventing UFC 78 against Michael Bisping. A win over Bisping earned him a shot at Chuck Liddell. One big punch later, Chuck Liddell lay unconscious, and Rashad Evans was the #1 contender. He took full advantage of that opportunity, winning the Light Heavyweight title from Forrest Griffin at UFC 92. But his run was short lived, as he quickly ran into a brick wall in Lyoto Machida. He's since bounced back with 2 wins, but his post-title career has been mainly defined by inactivity. It's been over two years since he lost the belt, yet he has only fought twice in that time, taking significant time off to film The Ultimate Fighter, wait for title bouts, and recover from injury.
For Ortiz, inactivity has also been a big factor. Tito took almost a year off after UFC 73, returning against Lyoto Machida in what was said to be his final UFC fight. He lost that fight, despite threatening Machida late in the fight with a triangle. True to his word, he parted ways with the UFC after the loss. A year and a half later he was back, losing back to back fights to Forrest Griffin and Matt Hamill. With a record of 0-4-1 in his last 5, Ortiz, the UFC legend and former champion, walked into a UFC 132 fight with Ryan Bader as almost an afterthought - the latest legend ready to be retired by the new guard. Instead, The Huntington Beach Bad Boy submitted Bader in the biggest upset of 2011, earning himself a new life and his first main event since 2006.
Now, as the two men come together once again, they find themselves in remarkably different positions. Evans has made his way to the very top of the UFC, establishing himself as one of the company's big names. But he's also fallen, and had a rocky time since losing his belt. Here, he needs to clearly stake his position at the top of the mountain and remind everyone that he remains a serious challenger. Ortiz was completely written off before managing to come back with a vengeance. A win here and he's closer to the belt that he lost in 2003 than he's been in years; a loss puts him back at risk of his career coming to a close. It's a fight where both men have much to win, much to lose, and one where each will try to settle four years of unfinished business.